Recognizing that unregulated trade was wiping out scores of plant and animal species, in 1973 countries from around the world drafted a treaty “to protect wildlife against uch over-exploitation and to prevent international trade from threatening species with extinction.” Known as CITES, the treaty now includes 146 member countries. These countries act by banning commercial international trade in an agreed list of endangered species and by regulating and monitoring trade in others that might become endangered. Hawksbill turtles (Eretmochelys imbricata) are currently listed on Appendix I, which is reserved for those species in imminent danger of extinction. Specimens or products derived from species listed on Appendix I are banned from trade between member countries without special permission.
Hawksbill shell (or bekko in Japanese) has been used since antiquity as raw material in the making of a variety of products, including jewelry, carved figurines and decorative ornaments. Artisans from Japan are particularly skilled in working with bekko, and there is constant demand in that country for raw hawksbill shell.
Since 1993, Cuba has been stockpiling hawksbill shell from turtles taken in its waters. Approximately six tons of raw shell are now stored in Cuba awaiting permission from CITES to be exported. Under the proposed amendments submitted to CITES for consideration in April, Cuba is asserting that the hawksbills occurring in its territorial waters form a stable enough population to warrant “downlisting” to Appendix II. If either of the proposed amendments (Prop. 11.40 and Prop 11.41) is approved by a two-thirds vote of CITES delegates, Cuba would be allowed the one-time shipment of its entire stockpile to Japan. If Prop. 11.40 is approved, then every year thereafter, Cuba would also be permitted to export shell from an additional 500 hawksbills to Japan and other countries meeting certain guidelines.
Dozens of sea turtle scientists who make up the international Marine Turtle Specialist Group (MTSG) have voiced strong objections to the Cuban proposal. Drs. Meylan and Mortimer are among those on the MTSG who are most knowledgeable about the status of hawksbills in the Caribbean and indeed globally. The CCC delegation will be on hand in Africa to present delegates with factual information about the impacts of the Cuban proposal. With luck and hard work, the proposal will be defeated. Watch for an update on CITES in future publications.
How You Can Help
Sending three delegates to Africa for the ten-day conference will cost $10-15,000. The Educational Foundation of America has provided CCC with a grant of $5,000 specifically for this purpose. The Ahimsa Foundation has committed another $2,000. With the help of our members, CCC is hoping to raise the remainder of the funds needed for this critical mission. Please add your voice to ours as we fight for the future of Caribbean hawksbills by making a donation to CCC’s Save the Hawksbill Fund. Your gift will make a critical difference. You can use the return envelope enclosed in this newsletter. Be sure to earmark your gift to the Save the Hawksbill Fund. For more information or to make a credit card donation, please call (800) 678-7853. Thank you!